16th Mar2018

Glasgow Frightfest 2018: ‘Ghost Stories’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Andy Nyman, Martin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther, Leonard Byrne, Nicholas Burns, Jill Halfpenny | Written and Directed by Andy Nyman, Jeremy Dyson

Ghost-Stories-UK-poster

Adapted from their own supernatural stage play, Ghost Stories is a lovingly crafted horror anthology from writing / directing duo Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson. Inspired by British portmanteau horror films like Dead of Night (1945) and Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), Nyman and Dyson have conjured up a creepy collection of terrifying tales that’s worthy of instant classic status.

Nyman plays Professor Philip Goodman, a TV investigator specialising in debunking the supernatural and exposing hoaxes. An early indication of both Goodman’s character and the nature of his work occurs early on, when he triumphantly confronts a fraudulent psychic just as he’s bringing comfort to a grieving mother who lost her son to leukemia – the confused and anguished expression on her face immediately gives the audience pause.

Summoned to meet his childhood hero Charles Cameron, Goodman is taken aback when the wheezing, coughing, near-death old man begs him to investigate the three cases he was never able to solve. “I need you to tell me I’m wrong”, he exclaims, leaving Goodman distinctly unsettled.

It’s this set-up that gives the film its structure (replacing the lecture from the stage show), with Goodman visiting three individuals and hearing three terrible tales. They include: night watchman Tony (Paul Whitehouse), who’s seen something terrifying in a former asylum; nervous teenager Simon (Alex Lawther), who believes he’s being haunted by a demon he hit with his car in the woods; and wealthy city trader Mike (Martin Freeman), who takes Goodman on a walk across the moors and recounts how he experienced startling poltergeist activity as his wife had complications with her pregnancy.

However, as Goodman listens to each of the three stories, he becomes increasingly perturbed, convinced that they are somehow linked to a disturbing incident from his childhood.

Both life-long horror aficionados, Nyman and Dyson have clearly put a lot of thought into what scares the pants off audiences. To that end, Ghost Stories works its dark magic on several different levels, deploying time-honoured horror staples like jump scares, but also generating an atmosphere of creeping dread that buries deeper and deeper under your skin as the film progresses.

The direction, or rather, co-direction, is assured throughout, perfectly pitching the tone of the film and ensuring that there are moments of jet-black humour inter-woven with the pervasive horror. In addition, the film’s attention to detail is extremely impressive, with a number of clever elements that will richly reward repeat viewings.

The spooky atmosphere is further heightened by some superb production design work from Grant Montgomery (all greens, browns and greys) and creepy camerawork from cinematographer Ole Bratt Birkeland, as well as some inspired location choices, such as the dilapidated pub where Goodman first meets Tony, or a deserted caravan park.

Nyman is terrific as Goodman, his self-satisfied arrogance gradually superseded by an anxious vulnerability that’s almost child-like. Freeman is equally good as the poltergeist-plagued banker, layering his performance with an underlying tension that is genuinely unsettling. There’s also strong support from rising star Alex Lawther (The End of the F**king World), while Paul Whitehouse is cast against type to surprisingly disturbing effect.

By turns shocking, suspenseful and darkly funny, Ghost Stories is a thoroughly satisfying slice of British horror that deserves to be seen on the big screen, preferably with a primed-to-scream audience.

**** 4/5

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